Secret Places

If you walk east of Central Station in Amsterdam, you’ll eventually come to the Oostelijk Havengebeid, or the Eastern Docks Area – which used to be the eastern harbour of the city, and gateway to the IJsselmeer, for over a hundred years.  

So the area’s got a history, though there hasn’t been a cargo boat there since 1977, but it’s the kind of place that looks like a suburb that’s about 10 years old,

with a bit of the past thrown in.

Lots of big, modern architecture built for dense living in the old harbours.

A shopping centre on the quay that has everything, so you never have to leave the area and venture to other parts of town.

Plenty of schools, daycares, and dentist offices amidst buildings like the Lloyd Hotel – a processing centre for immigrants in the 1920s and 30s before it assumed a darker function, becoming a prison used by the Germans during WWII, and a juvenile detention centre from the 1960s til the late 80s. (Now, of course, it’s a fancy hotel, a beacon of Dutch interior design.)

I used to sublet a studio in one of its outbuildings, the “Ontsmettingsgebouw”, which served as a “decontamination” centre where immigrants underwent something not quite as innocuous as delousing, but not exactly a quarantine either.

But I digress. In the past twenty years or so, since the island’s become exclusively residential, some wild places have sprung up. Rather deliberately, in some cases,

and naturally in others.

Some are accessible from land,

and provide secret hiding places from the über-modern concrete and steel surroundings,

while others are only get-at-able by boat, raft or anything else that floats.

One is even a makeshift pirate ship.

I love these little spaces. They say two things: that nature persists on its own, or because people want it to, even in a country where nature is seen as an obstacle, as something to be tamed.